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Making Mistakes?

In my last blog I wrote about how the love we have for our children is buffered by the panic we feel when we think we’re making parenting mistakes. Someone asked me why I used the word “mistake” in the context of parenting. So, I looked up the definition. From Merriam-Webster: a wrong action or statement proceeding from faulty judgment, inadequate knowledge, or inattention. Not happy with the concepts of taking a “wrong action” or “faulty judgment,” I checked dictionary.com: an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.  

“An error?” Poor reasoning?” For an adult, maybe. Mistakes are made every day. We learn from our mistakes, learn how to fix them, sometimes with guidance from others, sometimes on our won. But what does a mistake look like for a young child? Do they make mistakes? Do children have the ability to understand an action as “carelessness” or made with “insufficient knowledge?”  Then I asked Google if young children can make mistakes – surprisingly, there are a lot of internet articles referencing mistakes children make. 

Not satisfied, I had a conversation with three of CCRR’s Quality Enhancement Specialists about whether a young child can actually make a mistake. “Mistake” is the label adults attribute to an action; children have no point of reference and likely have only done a thing like pouring milk a handful of times. If a child spills the milk when trying to pour, should we say, “Oh, what a mistake you made?” Of course not. Instead, we can acknowledge the spill itself without fanfare or excitement using words that do not connote negativity (“Oh, I see some milk has spilled. What might you have done differently so as to not spill the milk?”) We can then help the child learn how to pour the milk without spilling by practicing during water play and during meal time.  

We all take actions that don’t always end with the result we anticipated. How we deal with the results matters. Opportunities and space to try something, try it again, and again, is learning. Words and positivity matter when teaching. They build a child’s confidence to do more, try new things, to reach for the sky.